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The Road Out of West Texas–Big Rigs and the Perilous Path of Oil

Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2019 at 3:36 pm by Williams Hart    

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2003-2013 the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry experienced unprecedented growth leading to a doubling of its workforce and an increase in the number of drilling rigs by 71%. 

Despite the eruption of the energy industry in the last two decades, numerous American oil companies went under in the wake of the oil price collapse in 2014. Only one withstood the assault, and even thrived–the Permian Basin, wedged between Texas and New Mexico.

The combination of technological advancement and aggressive investment transformed the dusty stretches of West Texas into the second-most-productive oil field in the world, boasting a record four-million barrels of oil produced a day. 

But with the oil production boom there comes a familiar price: the safety and lives of the workforce pouring into the area, determined to secure steady work and financial stability, and the local population already settled in the Midland-Odessa metropolitan areas. 

As oil production climbs, the problem of efficiently transporting that product out of the Permian Basin is becoming more and more apparent. 

The countless lives affected by commercial motor vehicle accidents, specifically in the rural areas of West Texas, are a reflection of an issue that has not received adequate attention.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in 2013 nearly 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving 18-wheelers. Texas leads the nation in large truck road fatalities at 536, almost double the number of the next closest state. That’s an increase of 52% from 352 fatalities in 2009. 

Is the spike in big rig accidents related to the oil boom that took place in the energy-rich lands of West Texas? 

The study clearly and concretely supports the notion that the amount of drilling activity in an area, such as the Permian Basin or Eagle Ford Shale, is strongly correlated with the number of rural commercial vehicle crashes. When oil production activity increases, the number of reported road accidents involving big rigs increases as well. Conversely, when drilling activity diminishes, so does the number of road accidents.

Common Causes of Big Rig Accidents

  • Driver fatigue

According to the Texas Trucking Association, the state is short nearly 50,000 truck drivers and that number is only expected to increase. With a rapidly retiring workforce, lack of interest from younger generations, stagnant wages, and increasing freight loads, truck drivers are burdened with longer working hours and less time to get from point A to point B. Simply put, drivers cannot keep up with oil production and thus are suffering immense fatigue.

  • Drug and alcohol use

Legal and illegal drug and alcohol use contributes to nearly 65,000 big rig accidents annually. Inconsistent drug and alcohol testing for CDL drivers operating a commercial vehicle is a significant issue. Furthermore, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that 22 percent of truck drivers were driving while receiving disability benefits for epilepsy, alcohol addiction, or drug dependence.

  • Texting and driving

The likelihood of being involved in an accident on the road is 23.2 times higher for truck drivers who text while behind the wheel than for those who don’t. 

Other common causes: 

  • Overweight freight loads
  • Improper vehicle inspection and maintenance
  • Cargo security
  • Poor road conditions and infrastructure, especially in rural West Texas

Road Fatality Prevention Measures

Road accidents involving 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles are likely to increase as oil production continues to rise in the areas of West Texas. While it can be difficult to prevent human errors that cause 18-wheeler accidents, there are measures that can be taken to subdue the number of fatalities that are expected to occur in the future:

  • Drivers must adhere to limited work hours regulations, such as the 11-hour driving limit and 60-hour weekly duty limit. If the demand for new truck drivers is to be met, life on the road must be improved with shorter work hours and more time to rest.
  • Practice safe driving, for both truckers and passenger vehicles. No tailgating, use turn signals, minimize lane changing, stay out of blind spots, use caution in work zones and in inclement weather, apply breaks early.
  • Logistics professionals must be cognizant of safety measures such as land transportation safety policies, routine commercial vehicle inspections, and proper freight load management that would further reduce drivers’ exposure to fatal road hazards.

Get the Justice You Deserve

Road fatalities and injuries involving 18-wheelers are serious realities for both big rig operators and regular vehicle passengers, especially on the treacherous, oil-rich roads of West Texas. Fortunately, there are lawyers who specialize in truck driving accident injury cases and can help you get the justice that you or your family deserve.

If someone you love was seriously hurt or killed in an accident, you may be unsure of where to turn. The attorneys of Williams Hart have experience helping people through the aftermath of catastrophic accidents, and we can help you too. Contact our law firm at (713) 352-7071 to speak with an experienced lawyer today.

Note: We report on the types of accidents and injuries our law firm has experience handling. Our hearts go out to victims of the accidents described on this blog, and we hope that future accidents, injuries, and deaths can be prevented. These posts are gathered from recent stories in the news. As new developments occur, these stories are often updated. If information contained within this article is false or outdated, please contact us so we can include the new information or make a correction.

Disclaimer: Williams Hart hopes that by showing how often catastrophic accidents occur, we can begin a conversation about how to reduce or prevent them. We sincerely hope that the articles on our blog arm readers with the information needed to avoid being involved in such accidents. Content on this blog should not be construed as legal advice.

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